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Thursday, January 3, 2013
Forget awards, Manti Te'o's focus is on title

By Matt Fortuna

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- There is no paper trail to remind him of what could have been, the history that came so close to happening had the linebacker become the only exclusively defensive player to receive college football's highest individual honor.

There are no words stored away in a desk drawer somewhere, awaiting their proclamation for the next time he is on the doorstep of greatness.

No, Manti Te'o has not thought of almost winning the Heisman Trophy. He has not spoken much to his Notre Dame teammates about the trip since returning from his six-city, seven-day, 9,936-mile tour of the awards circuit one month ago. He has happily moved on to returning to the Irish and to preparing for Monday's showdown with Alabama in the Discover BCS National Championship.

Manti Te'o
Finished with the postseason awards circuit, Manti Te'o can now focus on winning a national title.
And he never had a speech planned had things played out differently, anyway.

"They actually gave him time over at the Heisman for the speech," his father, Brian Te'o, said. "And Manti spent that time sleeping."

Most days began at 4 a.m. local time -- which varied from Eastern to Central to Pacific -- and the obligations rarely ended before 10 p.m. on most nights.

And, really, it is not as if he had an entirely new message to deliver during a circuit that saw him take home a record seven national honors.

Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco says that Te'o has practiced harder than he has at any point this season, and Te'o says that has nothing to do with whatever metaphorical chip he could have developed since his weeklong tour in December.

"No. It's for the simple fact that I know that a lot of the success that you experience on game day was already done throughout the week, and if I don't prepare myself the best I can throughout the week, I won't be ready for Saturday," Te'o said. "Coach always talked about you can't just turn it on and off. I can't just slack the whole weekend and when game day comes, say, 'OK, I'm ready, I'm going to go all out now.'

"It's like how we talked, it's a day-to-day process, and I know that, and everybody on our team understands that. If we want to be successful on Monday, we have to be better on Wednesday and better on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and then Monday hopefully will take care of itself."

His teammates have mostly let him be ever since, with the occasional ragging here and there.

"We kind of give him a hard time: 'Hey, where you going next? Hey, how was flying here and there?'" fellow defensive captain Kapron Lewis-Moore said.

Still, there is the matter of that speech. His story -- from a Mormon in Hawaii to a Catholic school in Indiana, from passing up the NFL to overcoming the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend to lead Notre Dame's resurgence -- is already wildly popular.

That's why his parents took no issue with their son using that speech-making time to catch up on some rest. They had a good idea of what he would say if he won, and in four days there will be an even bigger stage to re-tell his story should he and the Irish win a national title.

"I think we're quite comfortable with what he could've said," Brian Te'o said. "He's been pretty consistent about who he acknowledges and who he thanks, so I think we're pretty comfortable with whatever he would've come up with.

"I know he would've paid a very large tribute to his teammates, which was a constant theme throughout all of his acceptance speeches. His teammates, his coaches and of course his family. I think he knew what to say if he had the opportunity to give that speech."